States Tighten Child Labor Laws, Boost Ag Workforce Safety

In 2022, the agricultural and food sectors were a significant employment engine in the United States, accounting for approximately ten percent of the nation’s workforce. This year, 2024, has seen a flurry of legislative activity across several states, focusing on critical issues impacting agricultural labor, including child labor, workplace safety, compensation, and concerted activities.

Child labor has been a prominent theme in these legislative discussions. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 sets the federal baseline for child labor laws, prohibiting oppressive child labor while providing specific exceptions for agricultural work. Under the FLSA, children aged 14 and older can engage in non-hazardous agricultural activities outside school hours, while those aged 12 and 13 can do so with parental consent. The FLSA also identifies eleven hazardous jobs that minors under 16 cannot perform, with additional hazardous occupations for those aged 16-18. States can enact more stringent child labor laws, but they cannot be less restrictive than the FLSA.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis signed HB1095 into law on June 4, 2024, significantly increasing penalties for violations of the state’s child labor laws. Under this new legislation, fines for first-time violations related to hazardous occupations for children under 14 range from $2,000 to $4,000 payable to the state and $7,000 to $27,000 to the aggrieved individual. For willful or subsequent violations, the fines escalate to $5,000 to $10,000 to the state and $15,000 to $65,000 to the individual. The law also provides for misdemeanor charges and additional penalties for employers knowingly violating these provisions. HB1095 will take effect on January 1, 2025.

Florida has also updated its child labor laws with HB49, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 22, 2024. The new law revises the working hours for minors, allowing those aged 16 and 17 to work more than eight hours on Sundays and holidays and providing mechanisms for waiving weekly hour limitations during school sessions. Additionally, the law mandates meal breaks for minors under 15 and those aged 16-17 working extended hours. HB49 is set to go into effect on July 1, 2024.

In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed HB100 on April 3, 2024, enhancing penalties for child labor law violations. If a minor is seriously injured or dies due to employment, the employer faces fines up to $25,000 per violation, a significant increase from the previous $10,000 cap. Lesser violations incur fines ranging from $500 to $2,500. The law will be effective from July 1, 2024.

Workplace safety has also been a legislative focus in 2024, with six states considering new laws. In California, the State Assembly passed AB1976 on May 22, 2024, requiring workplaces to include naloxone hydrochloride or another FDA-approved opioid antagonist in first aid supplies to address opioid overdoses. The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board must adopt this rule by July 1, 2027.

Additionally, the California Senate passed SB1299 and SB1105, enhancing protections for agricultural workers. SB1299 creates a presumption that heat-related injuries are work-related if employers fail to comply with heat illness prevention standards, ensuring comprehensive workers’ compensation. SB1105 mandates paid sick leave for agricultural workers during state or local emergencies due to smoke, heat, or flooding. Both bills now await consideration in the California State Assembly.

These legislative developments underscore the evolving landscape of agricultural labor laws, aiming to enhance protections for minors and improve workplace safety conditions. As these laws take effect, they will likely have significant implications for employers and workers in the agricultural sector, shaping the future of agricultural labor practices in the United States.

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